Networks of Meaning

Tue, May 3, 2011


Fundamental to the growth of The Economy of Meaning is the creation of pathways over which meaning flows, what I call networks of meaning.  Such networks are now, in the twenty first century, reaching a critical mass which will over time shift the center of the economy to one in which creation and production of meaning is the central activity–i.e. The Economy of Meaning.

For The Economy of Meaning to function it is necessary for a much larger segment of population to find economic opportunities making and exchanging meaning.  That a growing number of individuals shows the aptitude and desire to create and share meaning is clearly evident from the growing number of individuals who write novels, create music, hold seminars, work as personal coaches, and aspire in myriad other ways to create and share meaning.  Yet, the deluge of content generated by this growing population has placed such a strain on the old industrial system of distribution that the whole system is teetering on the edge of collapse.

Consider the book publishing industry, for example.  Such publishers are well suited to distributing mass appeal publications, such as presidential memoirs or blockbuster novels, while turning away tens of thousands of aspring authors.  Book agents frequently complain about the impossible task of screen hundreds of queries a day and frequently state that there is just not a market for a book.  But such failure to publish and distribute works by the vast majority of authors is more than likely to reflect a structural failure in the whole industry which is only capable of generating a profit for books that sell in large volumes, and as such has no reliable method of identifying and exploiting tiny niches that serve less than a hundred thousand readers, niches that would more than adequately support an author who sells twenty or thirty thousand copies a year.

Such tiny niches are crucial to The Economy of Meaning because meaning is unique to an individual’s situation, such as their personal interests, the stage in life they find themselves, the unique challenges they are facing, and the growth they have achieved in their personal lives.  While there will always be situations where meaning has mass appeal, the vast majority of meaning will have to be unique and tailored.

It is these tiny niches that networks of meaning serve.  To date such networks are mainly products of the Information Economy, with companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-in acting as flagships for such networks, which themselves are dependent on dozens of other technologies and services that enable their technologies.  The primary features of these organizations is that they form networks along which information can flow, but since these networks consist of connections specifically chosen and filtered by connected individuals, the information flowing in these networks contains a much higher level of meaning than traditional methods of distribution such as advertising or television.

Thus the information economy is creating an ecosystem, or a platform, that enables the coding, creation and sharing of meaning.  And this coding of meaning will permeate all media.  One such company for example is which is promoting the tagging of videos, which enables individuals to assign tags that structure and interpret the video.  Such meta-information (which can be considered another word for meaning) services are bound to proliferate in the near future across all of our media.

Niche markets are also vastly aided by the digital distribution of media with the plethora of e-readers, such as iPad and Kindle, web-based video such as Netflix and Amazon Video, and digital music distribution such as iTunes.  But even though these companies are offering new digital niche technologies, they are still structured as old-style mass market companies.  In another article I discuss individuals who will lead communities of interest, in other words individuals who are niche leaders and communicators of meaning.  Such individuals will function either autonomously or semi-autonomously.  Of course we have such individuals already for the mass market, Oprah being a good example, but what we are talking about here are individuals who work with a small community of highly motivated meaning seekers with networks perhaps a hundred thousand strong, and we see such individuals already emerging on Twitter.

The examples I’ve described above only cover a part of the eco-system that is emerging to support The Economy of Meaning, a work that is very much in progress.  Even now as this eco system emerges in its early forms there has been a marked uptick in meaning making and sharing activities and as more and more such companies mature the pace of individuals entering The Economy of Meaning will accelerate.  Viewed from this perspective we can makes sense and understand why such companies as Facebook and Twitter are having success beyond all measure, because we can see that they are providing essential infrastructure for meaning creation and exchange, what I term Networks of Meaning.

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